Voting for the Hugo Awards via web site was, not too many years ago, a rare and unusual thing, with most voters opting for the traditional paper ballot usually distributed through a convention progress report. Now, voting via the web site is apparently the most-common option for most voters, with fewer and fewer voters opting for traditional ballots. So why can't we cast our Worldcon site selection ballots the same way? It turns out that the following section of the WSFS constitution is the hold-up. Pay attention to section 4.1.2 below, which I've highlighted.
Section 4.1: Voting.
4.1.1: WSFS shall choose the location and Committee of the Worldcon to be held two (2) years from the date of the current Worldcon.
4.1.2: Voting shall be by written ballot cast either by mail or at the current Worldcon with tallying as described in Section 6.3.
4.1.3: The current Worldcon Committee shall administer the voting, collect the advance membership fees, and turn over those funds to the winning Committee before the end of the current Worldcon.
4.1.4: The site-selection voting totals shall be announced at the Business Meeting and published in the first or second Progress Report of the winning Committee, with the by-mail and at-convention votes distinguished.
Section 4.1.2 has been held to prohibit any form of electronic voting, because it specifically states "written ballot cast...by mail" and in this context, "mail" apparently excludes voting by web site or other electronic means of communication. The Hugo Award rules have different specific words that have been held to not prohibit e-voting.
Let us ignore the fact that faxed-in ballots have been accepted in the past; that apparently doesn't bother the people troubled by web-based voting. Also, the questions of how one deals with paying the Advance Supporting Membership (Voting) Fee are not actually in scope here; it seems reasonable to assume that a Worldcon wanting to do e-voting would figure out how to accept payments, and if they couldn't figure out how to do so, they simply wouldn't run e-voting.
Now I personally don't think this language actually prohibits electronic voting, but enough influential WSFS movers and shakers have stuck to this interpretation that it would call into question any Worldcon's attempt to do e-voting for site selection. And the major argument against my interpretation is that when the current wording was adopted in the late 1960s (morphing through a number of changes in the 1970s but retaining effectively the same intention), it was to allow people other than those who actually turned up at the WSFS Business Meeting to determine the site selection, and that "mail" means what it meant in 1968, and that it is wrong to re-interpret it to mean anything else, and that doing so is thwarting the will of members of WSFS as expressed through the Business Meeting.
Fair enough. If that's the case, then I think it's time to broaden the interpretation of what we mean by written ballot and mail. Because WSFS conducts multiple elections of different types, I think a general statement is preferable to trying to patch specific sections. General statements of this sort belong in Article 6, and I therefore intend to introduce the following WSFS constitutional amendment at Aussiecon 4. The amendment itself is short, but has a long commentary to clarify "legislative intent."
Short Title: Electronic Voting
Moved, to amend Article 6 of the WSFS Constitution for the purpose of clarifying the status of electronic voting on the Hugo Awards and Site Selection, by adding a new section after existing Section 6.2 as follows:
Section 6.x: Electronic Voting. Nothing in this constitution shall be interpreted to prohibit conducting Hugo Awards nominating and voting and Site Selection voting by electronic means. This section shall not be interpreted to require that such elections be conducted electronically, nor shall it be interpreted to allow remote participation or proxy voting at the Business Meeting. Paper ballots delivered by any means shall always be acceptable.
Submitted by Kevin Standlee, Johnny Carruthers, Steve Cooper, Linda Deneroff, John C. Fiala, Adrienne Foster, Glenn Glazer, Lisa Hayes, Jim Henry III, Lisa Hertel, Mary Kay Kare, Stacey Helton McConnell, Fred Moulton, Cheryl Morgan, Rita Medany, Cath Mullican, Kevin Roche, Jannie Shea, Stu Segal, Alison Scott, and Randy Smith.
Commentary: The phrase “Voting shall be by written ballot cast either by mail or at the current Worldcon” in section 4.1.2 has been held to prohibit conducting any portion of Worldcon site selection electronically, such as through a web site in the same manner as most recent Hugo Award elections. The word “mail” and “written ballot” has been interpreted to only allow paper ballots delivered by postal mail, private delivery, fax machine, or personal delivery by the voter or an authorized representative. This proposal would broaden the existing interpretation to require that “mail" be interpreted to include "e-mail and other electronic means" such as voting through a web site. It does not specify a specific technology for e-voting. It says that the constitution should be interpreted to allow electronic voting for both the Hugo Awards and Site Selection, but it does not require that such elections be held electronically, and it specifically requires that such elections should always have a paper-ballot/by-mail (or other delivery method) option.
While Worldcons would be required to always include a paper-ballot option, the decision to implement e-voting on any given WSFS election would be in the hands of each individual Worldcon committee. Whether or not previous or future Worldcons implemented e-voting would not have a bearing on the decision. The makers of this motion assume that Worldcon committees would consult with those groups participating in site selection and cooperate with them to implement e-voting, but would leave the final decision as to whether to actually do so in the hands of the current Worldcon committee.
In addition, this proposal explicitly excludes electronic voting, proxy voting, or other forms of remote participation at the Business Meeting. Voting at the Business Meeting shall continue to be in person only, including any votes held there such as constitutional amendments and elections to the WSFS Mark Protection Committee.
What I find annoying about many of the arguments against e-voting is that they boil down to "there will be massive fraud," with "fraud" actually defined (if they'd be honest with themselves) as "people participating who I don't think should participate even though they've met the membership requirements." And when I say this, I get told that I'm being overly mechanistic. By "overly mechanistic," I claim that they're saying that they know better than anyone else who is the "right sort of person" to be allowed to vote.
In any event, before y'all start spinning "movie-plot" scenarios about how someone could subvert a Worldcon site selection election, ask yourself what's stopping the same Nefarious Plotters from doing the exact same thing with the current paper-based system. An e-voting system should not be required to be held to a substantially higher standard than the current election system. We don't require massive levels of security on the Hugo Awards ballot above and beyond the paper ballot.
Furthermore, anyone who wants to claim that I'm calling for the abolition of paper ballots is either not reading the proposal or simply not telling the truth. I want the existing paper-based system to remain the default and lowest-common-denominator of our elections, even as I expect a decreasing percentage of the membership will avail themselves of it.
If you are a member of Aussiecon 4, either attending or supporting, and would like to be listed as a co-sponsor of this proposal -- that is, you're willing to "second" it -- let me know and I will add your name. WSFS precedent has always allowed non-attending members to submit and sponsor proposals. If you're going to A4, I'd appreciate you attending the Business Meeting and voting for it, but you don't have to attend A4 or the BM to be a co-sponsor as long as you are a member of this year's Worldcon.
Edit, 13:00: I have corrected and will continue to correct typos that do not substantially change the meaning of this post without individually calling them out.
Edit, 9 Jun 16:00: As I want to go ahead and submit the proposal to the Business Meeting, I'm closing off further co-sponsors. Thank you to everyone who joined their names to the proposal.